The History House gives “every neighborhood a place to tell their story.” Photo by Kseniya Sovenko
The History House gives “every neighborhood a place to tell their story.” Photo by Kseniya Sovenko

After 17 years at 744 N. 34th St., Fremont’s History House aims to move to the other side of the Aurora Bridge come Oct. 1, said Suzie Burke, president of the nonprofit’s board of directors.

The City of Seattle approved a Land Use Application detailing plans for the demolition of all existing structures and subsequent construction for the property. A five-story structure that will allocate the bottom floor for retail and dedicate the top four to office space, the new building is projected to be completed in 2017.

While Café Turko and Milstead & Co. will set up temporary locations and return to the site post-construction, the informal museum will permanently move to its warehouse storage space at 900 N. 34th St., according to Burke. All other current businesses, including CARQUEST Auto Parts and Bikram Yoga Seattle, will move to new locations.

“It’s wonderful; it’s just good all the way around,” said Burke, who owns the site. “Just ask what it meant to tear down a couple of scuzzy, old industrial buildings over there and build Brooks [Running Shoes and Apparel, at 3400 Stone Way N.].”

Because one of the site’s current buildings is nearly 112 years old, she continued, nobody has taken the time to install adequate utilities or expand parking. With ground-level and below-grade parking, as well as 200 internal bike stalls and 12 bike racks, the new building expects to offer commuters plenty of options.

A neighborhood caretaker

The History House itself, conceptually born after the death of Burke’s father in the mid-‘90s and opened in 1998 after the death of her mother, partially signifies the family’s untiring devotion to Fremont.

“My dad said he was a lifetime Fremonster,” said Burke, whose familial ties to the neighborhood trace back to 1939. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m caretaker for Dad and Mom. That’s what History House is, too.”

The museum’s mission strives to encourage people to engage in history gathering, particularly about neighborhoods. Though it is located in Fremont, History House allows all Seattle residents to convey their neighborhoods’ heritage in equal capacity without prioritizing specific communities. Exhibits featuring photographic histories of Georgetown, Madison Park, Ballard, Wallingford, Queen Anne and Fremont are currently on display.

“We’ve always been connecting people to the resources the rest of the community has,” Burke said. “We never had a bunch of staff. It’s always been grassroots, and that’s why we let people run in the direction they want to go.”

Unlike traditional museums, where curators have the power to assemble exhibits, History House empowers residents, granting them the ability to define their neighborhoods.

The nonprofit also provides a venue for lectures, entertainment and interactive exhibits. Burke established History House with the intention of creating a public gathering space, frustrated by the lack of public forum space in Fremont 20 years ago.

More digitalization

Though the current exhibit-building mission and procedure will persist with the move, history enthusiasts can also expect some changes. Upon relocation, the History House board intends to dedicate more time to digitization, as digital archives have increasingly become the dominant means by which people consume historical content.

Still, the Internet, for all its richness, cannot replace a real, physical experience, suggested Burke, who has witnessed the exhibits enthuse students from Fremont’s Pacific Crest School. Taking the time to create a community-centered display is an illuminating experience in its own right, she added.
“Who, today, knows that the center of Green Lake was once a dairy?” asked Burke, with a slight laugh, referencing the Vitamilk plant formerly at 419 N.E. 71st St.

Increased digitization will also aid the History House’s upcoming efforts to produce live historical content for its own shared, hyperlocal radio station. With a broadcast radius of approximately 5 miles, the microstation is sure to serve neighborhood interests. As a member of the Association of King County Historical Organizations (AKCHO), History House will also feature live program content from other museums in the region.

Relics of the History House, including the iconic fence, an original 6-by-12-foot chunk of the Berlin Wall and Stan Stapp’s North Central Outlook newspaper archive will also make the move to the new location.

Despite reduction in size for History House’s new home, Burke, president of Fremont Dock Co., is excited about the move and what it means for commercial development in Fremont.

“This is jobs,” Burke said. “There’s no question that Fremont’s underbelly is about jobs, so that we can continue to be the place where you can actually both live and work.”

While Burke suggested that Tableau Software intends to occupy much of the new office space, public relations director Doreen Jarman commented that the company has nothing to announce about real estate plans at this time.

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